Advent of PEI Island Demons brings with it strong leadership

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With another season of MWFL football looming on the horizon, it heralds the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Marking an exciting first in its unfolding history, the league welcomes the province of Prince Edward Island into the fold for 2019.

Identified by the daunting nomenclature “Island Demons”, PEI’s contingent signifies the fifth in league history. Taking to the gridiron for its inaugural season against the Capital Area (Fredericton) Lady Gladiators, the Halifax Xplosion, the Moncton Vipers, and the dynastic Saint John Storm, a significant element of the league’s heritage already defines the early lore of the Demons.

Among the architects of this expansion, franchise is Meagan Ferguson, who is also a league alumna. Possessing a remarkable athletic background, which included elite competition in ice hockey, Ferguson was also part of the fascinating female football movement in Atlantic Canada, having once graced the gridiron with the Lady Gladiators.

Currently occupied as a sports psychologist and an educator, Ferguson also gained a Master’s Degree from the University of Ottawa, specializing in …., Throughout her academic and professional pursuits, the love of sport never faded. Returning to PEI, the prospect of bringing female football to her home province was both promising yet potentially challenging. Finding a fellow enthusiast in a familiar face, their shared interest in sport served as the catalyst towards fulfillment a mutual vision,

“Following my Master’s degree, I had moved home (PEI) to establish my applied sport psych/mental performance consulting business and teach at Holland College. A former college classmate of mine and I, Richard Lush, had met for lunch one afternoon to see if we could get this going.

Him having great coaching plus playing plus management background, and my previous experience in the league, we felt this could be a great opportunity to provide females 18+ a new exciting option- to continue playing sport following high school, or a new opportunity to learn a new sport with new faces!

PEI has groomed some younger girls though our flag program, and has had some girls playing with boys in our contact high school league. Richard and I wanted to start this team to give those girls a place to play following high school, but also show girls who have never played that this option will be here for them to pursue.”

Taking on a role as the club’s co-founder, serving in a managerial capacity, this compelling chapter is destined to mirror the journey of another celebrated alum among the Lady Gladiators. Having also served in an administrative function in the MWFL, Cheryl O’Leary was also prevalent on the offensive line. Along with the treasured opportunity to serve in a coaching mentorship role with Canada’s national women’s team, working under the tutelage of Olivier Eddie, O’Leary’s dedication to the game encompasses an inspiration that Ferguson is destined to match.

Undoubtedly, Ferguson’s promising efforts with the Gladiators not only pays homage to O’Leary’s body of work, it positively demonstrates how the players of the MWFL can positively shape the league’s destiny, taking on key role after hanging up their helmets.

Just as instrumental in this compelling beginning is the aforementioned Lush, who shall take on the momentous position of first head coach in franchise history. Bringing a well-rounded background and a solid sporting resume, including a Vanier Cup with the University of Manitoba, and a spot on the PEI Aboriginal Sports Circle, the feeling of making history is one that has defined his enthusiasm for the position. While the lunch meeting stands as one of the defining moments of his early tenure in the formation of the Island Demons, his leadership also shines through, quick to recognize two other prominent figures in the realization of a football dream,

“This all started with an idea, and then it became a lunch meeting with Meagan Ferguson, and then the mass preparations, recruitment, and campaigning to make this all possible.

Here we are almost a year later and we have finally done something Historic for PEI, as this will mark the first time in PEI History a Female Tackle Football team will occur!

Being a part of this amazing experience has been remarkable; the ladies have been so fantastic with regards to wanting to learn the sport, fundraising, and overall helping this program become a staple of female athletics in PEI.

Without the help of Lacey Mary and Lexie Mireault, this program would not be where we are today, and we are all so proud of the program we have worked so hard over the past year!”

As opening kickoff approaches, the opportunity to have seen an idea for a new football reach fruition has resulted in a labour of love for Ferguson. Just as important is the chance to allow a new community of aspiring female footballers to experience the blend of jubilation, achievement and adrenaline that comes from gracing the gridiron, staking an assertive claim in sporting equality.

Having obtained some very inspiring life lessons from her time as a competitor with the Lady Gladiators, Ferguson is optimistic that the positive values of leadership, teamwork, respect and self-esteem shall serve as a boon in the Island’s sporting community. While the Island Demons brings her athletic endeavors full circle, the true victory for Ferguson is the chance to foster friendships, provide encouragement while instilling an inspiring confidence,

“Finally, I can only speak for myself, but one thing I am excited for is to see empowered women empower (other) women. I have been an elite multi-sport athlete my entire life, and no other sport has ever clicked for me the way football has; and I see and hear the same feedback from many women around the league.

Football teaches you a lot about yourself (self-awareness), and teaches you a lot about others (group cohesion). As a certified mental performance consultant (applied sport psych), I am fascinated with motivation, teamwork and sport confidence. I personally feel that football pushes limits and creates possibilities unlike any other team sport.

Knowing that female sport participation drops dramatically, especially following high school, our hope is that the Island Demons can give girls, and women, an option to learn the game and love to play it.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Halifax Xplosion show civic pride by participating in Halifax Pride Parade

As the only Nova Scotia-based franchise in the Maritime Women’s Football League, the Halifax Xplosion is working towards establishing itself as a contender. While it works towards achieving its championship ambitions, the nascent franchise has also worked towards establishing itself in the community.

One such event was the 26th Annual Halifax Pride Parade on July 27, 2013. A handful of Xplosion members participated in the event as a gesture of support.

Image obtained from Facebook

Image obtained from Facebook

While many of the participating athletes have earned MWFL All-Star nods in their careers, they emerged as great pillars of the community by participating in the parade. Women’s football is a unique example of women competing in traditionally male dominated fields. Their participation in the parade showed that while the challenge for inclusion can be difficult, heart and determination comprise a winning formula.

Quarterback Ashley Howatt leads the way for the Xplosion as a four-time All-Star selection. Abbi Hennigar earned consecutive All-Star nods for defensive play in 2009 and 2010.

2012 was a banner year for Lindsay Bennett as she was named an Offensive All-Star while earning the Xplosion Unsung Hero Award. She was joined in the parade by Niamh Bermingham, a two-time All-Star selection on offense.

Ashley Howatt (left) and Lindsey Bennett (Image obtained from Facebook)

Ashley Howatt (left) and Lindsey Bennett (Image obtained from Facebook)

Terri Smith-Fraser was named to the MWFL All-Stars in 2011. In 2010, Karen Lalonde was an offensive All-Star and was joined by Holly Arthur on defense. Although members Marlene Chickness, Lyndsay Corbin, Angela Howell and Leah Wofsy have no football All-Star status to boast of, their presence in the parade will certainly make them stars in the eyes of many.

Lyndsay Corbin  (Image from Ashley Humboldt Photography

Lyndsay Corbin (Image from Ashley Humboldt Photography

While the players donned their traditional navy blue jerseys, an element of fun was added by wearing clown wigs, sunglasses and multi-colored knee-high socks. The socks held special meaning as it meant to represent the rainbow theme that is the symbol of gay pride, one that celebrates and cultivates the optimism that hope, diversity and inclusion will be recognized.

Left to right: Marlene Chickness, Lyndsay Corbin and Sarah Ingraham (Image by Shaun Simpson)

Left to right: Marlene Chickness, Lyndsay Corbin and Sarah Ingraham (Image by Shaun Simpson)

Marking their first-time in the parade, the route started on Barrington Street and moved down to Spring Garden Road and up to Garrison Grounds. Using their helmets as baskets to give out goodies to the children lining the sides of the Halifax streets, Xplosion players donned smiles throughout the event. From miniature flags adorned with the Xplosion logo to candies, t heir souvenirs likely created new fans on this special day.

Another essence of humor was added to the event with some homemade signs that some of the players carried in the parade. With messages that read Girl on Girl Action is All Part of the Game to another that stated Check out our Tight Ends, the signs were another aspect of what made the event a treasured one for the players.

During past parades, the franchise encountered problems with timing that prevented their participation. As some members of the Xplosion have friends, family and athletic associates that are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgendered Community, the chance to join other members of the community in a show of support was a tremendous source of pride.

Holly Arthur (Image from Ashley Humboldt Photography)

Holly Arthur (Image from Ashley Humboldt Photography)

Helping make the idea a reality was Holly Arthur. An alumnus from St. Mary’s University, she also serves on the MWFL executive as the secretary. In looking to help increase awareness of the club’s existence, Arthur was aiming to find an event that would be fun while helping to contribute to the community. The Halifax Pride Parade met all those requirements.

While the unexpected but pleasant surprise was the fact that the Xplosion were recognized as the ‘Best Community Group’ in the parade, the franchise already has plans to participate next season.

Capital Area Lady Gladiators competitors highlight MWFL’s All-Decade Team selections

As the longest-running Canadian sporting league for women, the Maritime Women’s Football League is celebrating its landmark tenth anniversary season. Part of the celebration included the announcement of an All-Decade Team.

Of all the franchises in the league, the Capital Area Lady Gladiators (based out of Fredericton, New Brunswick) had a league-best 11 players on the All-Decade Team. Leading the way is one of the greatest players in league history; Alex Black.
Along with Lisa Harlow of the Saint John Storm, she holds a record seven All-Star nods. The franchise player for the red and gold, she is also its quarterback. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that she is the only player with seven consecutive All-Star nods, ranging from 2006 to 2012.

In addition, she has gained two awards in her storied career. During her rookie campaign of 2006, a teenaged Black earned the Most Outstanding Player on Offense award. Two years later, she was recognized as the Most Outstanding Player in the entire league.
Robyn Neill and Kristin Chatterton are not only All-Decade Team selections, but played with Black on the silver-medal winning Canadian National Women’s Team from the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland. Although Neill is a prominent offensive lineman, and Chatterton is an anchor on defense, they helped the Lady Gladiators reach the 2012 SupHer Bowl.

Prior to competing with the Lady Gladiators in 2012, Chatterton was a three time MWFL All-Star selection with the rival Moncton Vipers. Earning the All-Star nods in 2009, 2010 and 2011, her signing with the Glads yielded remarkable results. In addition to a fourth consecutive All-Star nod, she capped off her season with the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.

Starring on the offensive line since her teens, Neill is the engine that runs the offensive line. As a four-time MWFL All-Star, she is more than just an elite blocker, but a tremendous leader. She would learn her craft from Courtney Hallett, the 2005 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman. Her mark on the Gladiators is unique as she is one of only three Glads competitors to be named to the All-Decade Team and the first MWFL All-Star team in league history.

One of the most versatile players in franchise history, Julia Coleman earned All-Star nods on both offense and defense. The 2007 season would signify one of her finest ever. Earning the Most Outstanding Defensive Back Award, she would also earn her second consecutive All-Star nod, respectively. Four years later, Coleman would fulfill her legacy as one of the finest defensive players in the league’s nascent history by grabbing the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award.

Part of the inaugural MWFL All-Star squad in 2005, Michelle Harrison was also a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award. She was joined on the All-Decade Team by the likes of Natasha Canning, Grace Hallihan, Edna Jewett and Connie Timmons. The foursome share four MWFL All-Star nods on offense and five selections on defense.

With volunteers and coaches also recognized on the All-Decade Team, Michelle Coleman and Cheryl O’Leary proudly represent the squad. Coleman boasts an MWFL All-Star selection from 2009, while O’Leary is making the transition to coaching.

While she still competes, she has also volunteered in an executive capacity with the Glads, while serving as an offensive line coach. For the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, she was a mentor coach for Team Canada, serving on Olivier Eddie’s special teams unit. Her future in coaching puts the ensures great success will continue for the signature franchise of the MWFL.

Rebranded sporting network must show stronger commitment to women’s sports

As the Rogers sports broadcast empire in Canada expands with its acquisition of The Score (channel 52 for most cable subscribers in Ontario, Canada), there seems to be a commitment to stick with the status quo. As The Score is renamed SN360 (SN stands for SportsNet), the programming is relatively the same.

Fans will not be deprived of their weekly fixes of professional wrestling, mixed martial arts and poker. Meanwhile, competitive professional sports that feature women are not part of the larger scheduling plan. Women’s hockey (such as the CWHL) and women’s tackle football (with the WWCFL in Western Canada and the MWFL in the Maritimes) are just not ready for prime time.

While there is no question that the vast majority of sports fans do not know about the existence of these leagues, is there not a moral obligation on the part of these networks to try and help support home grown female sporting product? Even if there was no profit to be made with women’s hockey or women’s tackle football, there would certainly be a tax credit opportunity.

The CRTC ensures that all Canadian-based TV and radio stations air 30 percent Canadian content on their airwaves. Women’s sports would certainly help meet that criterion, while providing much needed attention for a group of budding leagues that are struggling to build an audience.

As these leagues dream of major TV exposure, there is no question that Rogers could emulate what NBC did with the NHL after the 2005 lockout. NBC acquired the rights to NHL hockey for zero money and split any profits evenly with the league. The women of hockey and tackle football are not even compensated; therefore, money is not even an issue.

The sad irony of this whole scenario is that there used to be a specialty cable channel devoted exclusively to women’s sports. Known as WTSN (Women’s Television Sports Network), the network launched on September 7, 2001. Led by former broadcaster Sue Prestedge, the fledgling network failed to gain a fan base and crumbled within two years.

Considering many of the women that compete in hockey and tackle football also juggle career and family, the demands of marketing and promotion that come with helping to grow their respective sport is difficult. While many of these women’s leagues have a board of directors and an executive body to try and help the sport grow, the support of a major sports channel would open doors that would have taken years without their backing.

As Rogers owns over a half dozen different sports channels, a sporting publication and the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, surely, there must be room to accommodate these budding leagues. The cost of running one franchise in the WWCFL or MWFL would cost less than a baseball player earning the minimum salary.

With the broadcast exposure, it would stimulate interest in the sports, while helping build a fan base. Perhaps over time, these leagues would become profitable and even see players earning a salary. At this time, the priority is just breaking through, and sacrificing poker or horse racing at 3:00 AM in the morning is a small price to pay for the reward of helping build women’s sport in Canada.